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Keeping Faith with the Party emerged from an individual research project, based on oral histories with Russian Gulag survivors, unpublished memoirs, and archival material from the State Archive of the Russian Federation, the Russian State Archive for Contemporary History (the Central Party Archive), the Russian State Archive for Social and Political History, and Memorial.

The cover of Keeping faith with the party

Researcher: dr. Nanci Adler
Duration: 2005-2009
Publications: Keeping Faith with the Party: Communist Believers Return from the Gulag (Bloomington; Indiana University Press 2012), 'Enduring Repression: Narratives of Loyalty to the Party Before, During, and After the Gulag' , Europe-Asia Studies 62, 2 (2010) 2111-2234.

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The Gulag has joined the tragic annals of what has been described as “man’s inhumanity to man”. Yet some prisoners, many of whom were falsely convicted, emerged from the experience maintaining their loyalty to the system of government that was responsible for their imprisonment. In camp, they had struggled to survive. After camp they struggled to reintegrate into society, re-unite with their loved ones, and, sometimes, to renew Party ties.

Based on oral histories, archives, and unpublished memoirs, Keeping Faith with the Party chronicles accounts of Gulag prisoner and returnees who professed enduring belief in the CPSU and the Communist project. With the materials that have become available, we can now begin to understand this phenomenon.

Explanations include:

  • Communism as a faith-based belief system
  • a traumatic bond forged by stress
  • cognitive dissonance
  • functionalism

The Soviet example is unique in that repression held sway to greater or lesser degrees for seven decades. As we try to evaluate the issues surrounding the violence and misfortune wrought by leaders against their own people in the twentieth century, this investigation of Gulag prisoners’ attitudes toward the Party facilitates a deeper understanding of the dynamics of Soviet Communism.  These first-hand accounts of how the system affected people who lived through it also contributes to our understanding of some of the processes by which people survive within repressive regimes and repressive regimes survive within people.

To date, this is the only work that offers an innovative, interdisciplinary approach to the paradoxical question of loyalty to a repressive regime. Gulag prisoners who maintained faith in the CPSU - and the light this sheds on the workings of repressive regimes - have not been explored as a separate issue, which renders the focus of this study quite new. Just before, and in the two decades since the fall of the Soviet Union, ex-prisoners, ex-dissidents, and a vast body of published and unpublished camp literature emerged to tell tales of repression under the Communist system. At the same time, official archives offering insight into the Party perspective also became available to researchers. This study investigates memoirs, oral history, and archives to chronicle the belief, fear, and disillusionment experienced by individuals in extreme conditions.

In the course of this investigation, Adler had the opportunity of being invited to present her results to several different international forums. These venues included: the Harvard Conference on the History and Legacy of the Gulag, the Hebrew University Conference on “Eyewitness Narratives”, the “Approaches to Stalinism” conference in Moscow, the “Repressed Russian Provinces” conference in Smolensk, the HL-Senteret in Oslo, the Netherlands Embassy in Moscow, the Center for Women’s Studies in Zagreb, King’s College of Cambridge, the Hugo Valentin Center in Uppsala, Lund University, and the CSIC in Madrid.

This research was funded by a VENI innovative research grant of the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO), and conducted under the aegis of the Department of East European Studies of the University of Amsterdam and the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies/NIOD.